Dorothy Day Caucus of the American Solidarity Party A Revolution of the Heart
by Zeb Baccelli
This is the second of a two-part essay on the economic value of traditional marriage. The first part was published on Tuesday, September 5 and may be read here.
PART TWO: Why “traditional marriage” rather than “marriage equality”?
It is no small irony that DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) was overturned in the case of United States v. Windsor, a case in which one childless millionaire, Edith Windsor, won the right to inherit a multi-million dollar estate tax-free from Thea Spyer, her millionaire wife. Is this what is intended by “marriage equality” - that the wealthy will be better enabled to keep their wealth without contributing to the common good?
As civil marriage becomes open to more kinds of couples it is increasingly becoming a class divided institution. As a recent Atlantic article (1) notes:
"Today, though, just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree; in the 1970s, there was barely a difference."
Young working class people often feel they don’t have the means of putting on a proper celebration based on standards set by advertisers, reality TV, and celebrity culture. They believe they can’t live a proper married life if they lack a house or a decent paying job with good benefits. As the Atlantic article continues to say, “The disappearance of good jobs for people with less education has made it harder for them to start and sustain relationships.”
So what is marriage for, and who is it for? Is it just an excuse for rich people to throw a lavish party and, down the road, keep their wealth within their class? Is marriage just another commodity, available to anyone who wants it if they can afford it? When marriage is decoupled from the sacrifices of childbearing and rearing it will become a tool of economic segregation and class maintenance for the wealthy. When that is what marriage becomes, that is precisely when marriage will be a form of unjust discrimination.
To be sure, marriage as construed by the “marriage equality” supporters is still explicitly discriminatory. Consider a case from my own life. My dad’s three younger brothers have lived and worked together on their family dairy farm for over 50 years and all three remain bachelors without children. They have always enjoyed some of the rights that marriage equality advocates demanded: next of kin status, visitation rights, etc. But they will not be able to inherit each other’s share of their farm when one dies. They will not get each other’s social security benefits. And why should they? Each has had the opportunity to work his whole life and provide for himself, just like any other unencumbered man or woman. But surely their fraternal relationship is just as deep and committed and valuable as Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer’s relationship. On what grounds can we justify privileging some domestic arrangements, indeed subsidizing them, over and against others? The irony of “marriage equality” is that in the name of ending discrimination it turns marriage into a completely unjust form of discrimination.
As marriage becomes just a status symbol, a high price accessory one may add to one’s life when the time is right, so will children. Widespread acceptance and use of contraception has already created the expectation that children should be a planned choice, and only chosen when you’re economically ready for them. Children are no longer viewed as the entirely natural, near inevitable, outcome of romantic coupling. But when marriage is not reserved for the kinds of couples who do naturally produce children, there is no longer any reason to treat marriage as the wellspring of children or to embed it with benefits for that reason. Same-sex couples who want to raise a child must go to extraordinary measures to become parents, and so can be expected to choose the moment and prepare for it carefully. Procreative couples are going to face that same expectation more and more as the social view of marriage changes. Marriage is no longer an excuse for leaving the workforce because it is no longer the beginning of childbearing and rearing. There is no longer a reason or justification for extending spousal benefits meant to abate the economic consequences of procreative marriage. Both marriage and childbearing become a personal lifestyle choice that the individual should pay for.
We may allow “marriage” in a cultural sense to be construed diversely so people can use the honorific aspect of it to celebrate relationships they see as good. And certainly we should ease the process of establishing “next of kin” status so things like visitation rights are available to all regardless of marriage status. But we must reestablish and strengthen a legal institution that recognizes the unique nature of “traditional marriage” and provides it the support it needs in light of its procreative nature. Women in particular and families as a whole, if they resist the capitalist demand to put paid economic productivity ahead of family, suffer and sacrifice to bring the next generation of well-raised children to our society. That should be subsidized, not punished. Traditional marriage with its attendant benefits should be preserved for those families that naturally will bear and rear children in order to protect the family and nurture the next generation.
Tara Ann Thieke